(A/N: Hi everybody! This is my newest TLK project. I've had this idea floating around for a while now, and didn't really develop it until this year- you readers can thank readsmanyfavesfew for pushing this project forward! :)

For those of you who followed Just Beneath the Surface, who put up with my slow updates, I already have this story completely drafted so I can just take my time with the editing process at a chapter-by-chapter basis. Not to say the editing won't take time, but that this story should go along a little smoother- and hopefully be quicker.

So here is the story! I hope you all enjoy it.)

Kovu smiled down at the termite he'd caught, letting it run its long, delicate wings over his rough paw pads. The bug sat there, buzzing faintly, before it took flight above Kovu's head.

"Kovu! Stop letting them go."

The young, brown-furred cub gaped as his mother snatched the bug out of the air and slapped it on the ground, squashing and smearing it across the dry earth. Scowling, Zira leaped towards Kovu. "What's the matter with you?"

Kovu arched his eyebrows. "Mother, why'd you hurt him? 'Cos he wasn't hurting me."

"What?" Zira snorted and rolled her eyes. She shook her head. "My son… Do you want to live here forever, or do you want to live in the Pride Lands?"

"The... Pride Lands...?" Kovu replied unsurely. "But what does that haveta do with termites?"

Zira sat down and pulled Kovu close, his cheek pressing into her light-furred, boney-ribbed side. "Remember when Mummy said Scar chose you to follow in his pawprints? When you were born, he came to me in a dream and spoke of the greatness inside of you."

With a claw, she tipped Kovu's chin up and smiled at him.

"Yes, yes. You are Scar's heir- he sent you to me- and when I look into your beautiful green eyes, I can see a destiny filled with great things."

Kovu broke his mother's intense red-eyed stare for a moment before looking up again. "Great things?"

"Yes, my son. You will be our hero. And that's why we must fulfill Scar's wish and train you to become the next king, to take back your throne from Simba. Don't feel anything for these dirty little termites. They're nothing. What matters is that you avenge Scar's murder." She let him go and stalked away. Her sweet smile morphed into a toothy grimace and her lilting voice became a snarl.

"When you take back the Pride Lands, we will no longer be forced to live in these dry, barren, disgusting, pathetic, termite-infested Outlands!"

Zira backhanded one of the many termite mounds that littered the territory of cracked earth and shriveled, brittle plant life. Dirt tumbled to the ground. Wingless termites scrambled to climb off their backs.

Kovu looked down at his paws. His mother always spoke of the greatness she saw in him, and always told Kovu how Scar wanted him to take back his rightful throne, but Kovu wondered if he had the kind of greatness inside of him that his mother wanted him to have.

I think I do- it's good to fight against someone who's hurt you and your family- but I wish Mother would rest some of her dreams and expectations on someone else's shoulders... I wish we could go someplace else and I could do great things there.

"Mother, mother!"


Kovu cocked his head to the side as a scruffy, dark-furred adolescent lion and a tawny girl cub bounded eagerly towards them. Zira turned and raised an eyebrow.

"Mother, mother! We snuck, like you wanted, into the Pride Lands!" Nuka reported breathlessly, skidding to a stop.

"And we saw everything, Mother!" Vitani added.

"Everything!" Nuka exclaimed. He tried to shove Vitani backwards, but she ducked away from his paw. "We saw the whole thing!"

Vitani cried, "We saw Simba's new cub! It's a girl!"

"A girl?" Zira cackled. "Ha! Some heir!" She then closed her eyes, a peaceful look softening the harsh angles on her smiling face. "Scar, my beloved, did you hear that? Another defining moment in Simba's reign…"

Kovu frowned, bothered by the way his mother spoke to Scar as if he were still alive.

Zira continued, snarling, "Our future will be extraordinarily bright once Kovu becomes king. Simba's brat can be easily removed, too."

"Y'know, speaking of kings," Nuka remarked, "I was just thinking that since I'm the oldest, that I should be king. Huh? I could-?"

"Don't be a fool, Nuka," Zira snapped. She raised a paw and Nuka cowered. She then shook her head and chuckled. "You'll never be as strong as Scar was, and Simba overthrew him. Scar knew it the moment he laid eyes on you. We all know Kovu is the future king."

Nuka laughed nervously. "Just a thought."

"You can stop that thinking." Zira turned away from Nuka and walked back towards Kovu, who she nudged towards Nuka. "Take your brother. Make sure he kills something, Nuka. How is he going to get anything done if he keeps letting termites get away? Mummy can't stand another minute of it, and she needs to report this news to the lionesses."

"Oh, yeah, okay, Mother." Nuka straightened up. He smiled over his shoulder at Zira as she walked away with Vitani. "I can do that."

"Hey, Nuka?" Kovu asked, looking up at his older brother. "Why is it me who has to fight Simba? I think you could-"

"Shut up," Nuka snapped. "C'mon, let's go get you to squish something."

Kovu batted at a rock. "But I don't really want to."

Nuka started to walk. "You're shaping up to be one fierce killer," he spat.

Kovu's eyes widened. "Killer?" he squeaked. "What're you talkin' about, Nuka?"

"Mother wants you to kill Simba. How didn't you already know that?"

"You're lying. Mother didn't say- I thought-"

Nuka rolled his eyes. "Do you wanna live in the Outlands all your life?"

The fur between his eyes puckered. "No..."

"Then you'll just squish something. Just remember- it's Simba's fault we're in the Outlands," Nuka said, repeating their mother's mantra. Then he muttered under his breath, "And Mother's dream is why you'll avenge Scar instead of me."

"I know all of that. That's all she talks about. Ever. I wish she'd stop."

"She'll stop once you kill Simba. Then she'll just tell you how great you are every day."

Kovu trotted behind his brother, eyes on the ground, thoughtfully flicking the dark end of his tail. When referring to the Pride Rock lion, his mother had always said that Kovu was going to 'fight' or 'get Simba out of the way'. Never 'kill' like Nuka had said. Kovu had thought his job was to chase Simba and his family away like Simba had exiled him and his family.

But Simba did kill Scar and steal his throne- my throne- and that's bad. Simba deserves to die for treason and murder, right? And if I take back my throne, then my family won't have to live here anymore. They won't suffer in the Pride Lands like they do here. That's good, too, right? I don't want to live here, either, and I don't want to disappoint my family...

Kovu lowered his ears. All the justifications were there, shaped and illustrated for him by his mother for as long as he could remember, but he still didn't feel good about it… there was something he couldn't put a paw on. Something was off. He realized then that something had always been off, but even more so now that he knew he would be killing Simba and not just fighting him. Being the hero for his family meant he would have to take a life.

Was I really just born for killing? To right the wrong that happened to Scar? Is that it? Isn't there anything more than that?

Simba stood on the tip of Pride Rock, which had been the center of attention that morning. Now, the gazelle, zebra, wildebeest, giraffe, and other prey animals had abandoned it, leaving the lions who hunted them to relax and celebrate after the presentation ceremony. The cooling evening air smelled strongly of grass and faintly of musk. Simba sighed, taking in the peaceful scene and remembering how several days before it had just been him, Nala, and the building anticipation of a new life preparing to be born. His life had changed. He was a father, though he hesitated to add 'again' to that thought.

Nala was sleeping in the den with their new daughter, Kiara, who had been presented to the Pride Lands by Rafiki, the lion pride's shaman. The lionesses were doting on Kiara, happy to have their pride blessed by such a healthy, beautiful princess. Simba was thrilled to have a daughter, a little miracle. His heart lifted when he nuzzled her and felt the warmth of her soft fur against his nose, but it also clenched behind his ribs when he remembered the son he had lost not too long ago.

Kopa hadn't been strong enough to live past two months, weak from the first day he had entered the world. Sometimes the pain from the loss was relentless, and when he wasn't in pain, Simba felt guilty- the decision to try for another heir had weighed heavily on both him and Nala, but ultimately they hadn't had much of a choice.

He squeezed his eyes shut and recalled a fading memory...

"Daddy, can you tell me another story?"

Simba laughed. "But I've already told you two. Aren't you tired yet?"

"Nu-uh! Tell me another, tell me another!"

"Well… Which one…?" Simba had mused in mock thought.

"I want to hear the one about that snake who wanted to eat Timon!"

"You look anxious, my son."

Reality jerked Simba back. He turned and sighed when he saw his mother. "Just thinking, that's all."

"About what?" Sarabi sat down next to him.

Simba looked away guiltily. "Kopa…"

"He would want you to enjoy this moment, Simba."

"It's just… I miss him." Simba looked up at the sky. "I wonder if I didn't do enough to help him get better. I know Rafiki did everything he could to save my son." He heaved a breath. "I know I had to have an heir, but his life was more than just… just a replacement for me and Nala once we're gone. And when I look at Kiara I see him, and I know that isn't right." Simba turned to his mother. "I don't think I'll be able to help it. I wish the Circle of Life wasn't so cruel sometimes."

Sarabi pursed her mouth. "Simba... I know what it is like to lose a son… but I also don't know everything that you're going through because Kopa isn't coming back. I was lucky." With her cheek, she nudged his red mane, so much like his father's, before she looked up at the sky. "The Great Kings must have a plan. Kopa would understand, don't worry. And your father is looking after him."

Simba looked away.

I'd rather have Kopa here with me…

"Why don't we go back into the cave? Nala was asking for you."

Simba sighed, and forced his painful worries to the back of his mind. They stood up and he forced a smile for his mother. "Kiara's beautiful, isn't she?"

"Very beautiful. And strong."

Simba looked to the side. "Do you think I can keep her and Nala safe? From Zira? The Outsiders can't seem to stay out of the Pride Lands." He feared that Zira, Scar's most dedicated follower, would return and make good on her vows of revenge. After he had exiled Zira and her savage lionesses, he'd sent his majordomo, Zazu, to follow them. Sure enough, they had only moved across the border. Lately, Simba and his pride had found evidence of prey poaching, but he had yet to catch them. The fur along his spine prickled in anger and repulsion when he patrolled along their shared border, and the disdain he felt for Zira and her sick mind only deepened. She had gone into the wilderness with her three cubs, followed by several lionesses who feared that their weak, sickly, and starving cubs would be killed, although he had assured them they were safe. He wasn't even sure if they were Scar's cubs or not- all the lionesses had sworn they weren't, but he wasn't so sure. Others had simply gone out of loyalty to Scar. It was their loyalty that he understood the least.

I lost one cub when the Great Kings called him home. I won't lose Kiara to a psychotic monster.

"Don't worry. You have family and your pride," his mother told him, standing up and leading him towards the den. "Zira's no match for us."

I'm not so sure about that... Simba thought as he entered the cave behind her. When you're determined, you can do just about anything. I think Zira is certainly determined. She might have tried to kill Kopa if he'd lived longer.

The temperature dropped inside the cave, but heat radiated off the pride of fifteen lionesses and one small cub. Sarabi went to her sleeping spot while Simba walked over to his mate, who was resting in the center of the den. Nala's head was on her paws, her eyes closed, but she stretched when he nosed the top of her head. Kiara was nursing.

"Hey," he murmured, lying down next to her.

"Hey…" When Nala opened her teal eyes and took in Simba's worried expression, the space between her sharp eyes creased. "Is everything all right, Simba? You look like you're hiding something."

"Nah, I was just getting some air," Simba said as he nuzzled Nala again, smoothing away his worry and putting more effort into his smile. He couldn't burden his mate with his worries when she already had her own. He groomed her cheek. "Everything is fine." He gazed at the small ball of orange fur. "How is she?"

The crinkle smoothed out a bit between Nala's eyes. "Tired and hungry," she sighed. "I finally got her to settle down… Rafiki said she's very healthy." There was a small note of joy in her soft voice.

Simba smiled. "That's great news." As he stared at Kiara, his grief started to resurface.

I cannot lose Kiara, too.

"Are you sure you're okay, Simba?" Nala watched him worriedly. Her eyes were beginning to mist.

Simba pursed his mouth and nodded slowly. "We should be happy." When he rested his chin on her paws, she laid her head over the back of his neck and snuggled her head into his red mane."I love you, Nala," he whispered.

Nala sighed. "I love you, too, Simba."

And I'll always protect you and our daughter.

(A/N: The next chapter is on its way to being polished, but I'm still working on it. I'm also finishing up my last quarter of college and my assignments just keep adding up. Good news is, I am completely done the second week of June before I start hunting for work! Thanks for reading!)